Law is a set of rules that a society or government develops to deal with crime, business agreements and social relationships. It can also refer to a profession where individuals work with the legal system in defending people’s rights and securing justice. It can also be a term used to describe the study of systems of laws and how they work.
The main purposes of law are to impose standards, maintain order, resolve disputes and protect liberties and rights. It can serve other objectives, such as promoting economic prosperity and social justice, but these are less important than the first two. Some legal systems achieve these goals better than others. For example, an authoritarian regime might keep the peace and maintain the status quo but it may oppress minorities or other political opponents.
A legal system may be based on common law, constitutional law or civil law. Common law is a body of case law created by judges through their decisions on legal cases. Its development was greatly accelerated during the 19th century by the formation of a Europe-wide Law Merchant, which consolidated and simplified splintered local laws into a single code that could be easily exported. Civil law, on the other hand, is a system of rules based on judicial precedent and generally developed through a combination of legislative and administrative action. Civil law is a more comprehensive and flexible system, with codified statutes and codes that contain detailed provisions but leave room for judges to adapt them to changing circumstances.
It is also possible to develop a legal system based on religious precepts, such as the Jewish Halakha or Islamic Sharia, which are interpreted and elaborated upon through Qiyas (reasoning by analogy), Ijma (consensus) and jurisprudence. Religious laws are not considered to be binding by secular courts and are not enforceable, but they can have an influence on the legal systems of some societies.
Other areas of law include immigration law, which covers the right of a person to live and work in a country that is not their own; family law, which includes marriage and divorce proceedings; and business law, which deals with contracts and money. There is also competition law, which aims to prevent businesses from using their power and influence to unfairly raise prices and lower standards for consumers. This type of law traces its roots back to Roman decrees against price fixing and English restraint of trade doctrine, but it has developed into an important area of modern policy through the US antitrust and Sherman Act legislation.